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Theodore Greene, Amherst teacher, historian

Theodore P. Greene taught history at Amherst College.

Theodore P. Greene had such strong family ties to Amherst College that he chose it over a full scholarship to Harvard. He later returned to his alma mater to teach US history for 37 years.

He also became a part of the fabric of the town of Amherst. In the 1960s, he led a movement for affordable housing in the community. At the college, he was a leading faculty advocate of transforming historically all-male Amherst into a coeducational institution. When it accepted women for the first time in 1976, one of his nieces was in the first class.

Dr. Greene, who edited and contributed to several books about Amherst, both the town and the college, died Jan. 15 at the Center for Extended Care in Amherst after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 85 and lived in Amherst.

Though he was born in New York City, Dr. Greene was "a New England Yankee from day one," said his brother, the Rev. Thayer Greene of Amherst. He was a lifelong Red Sox fan. When he turned 16 and got his driver's license, his brother said, Dr. Greene's first big trip was to drive his younger brother to a Red Sox game from their summer home in New Hampshire. As an adult, he often took his family to Red Sox spring training in Florida.

As part of his research to transform Amherst into a coed college, Dr. Greene visited several other colleges that had become co ed and "did a lot of research on the process," his brother said. It helped him overcome the "good deal of resistance from some alumni."

In a letter he wrote to a student after teaching there for 27 years, Dr. Greene recalled how he had spent most of his life at the college of his ancestors "trying to understand Amherst's own special style, its traditional way of responding to historical change while preserving its inherited assets and distinctiveness. I have been aided in this endeavor by spending twenty-seven years of my life at Amherst and by familiarity with the experience of two grandfathers, a father, a brother, four uncles, and four cousins, who together have known Amherst from 1878."

As a teacher at Amherst from 1952 until his retirement in 1989, Dr. Greene was considered a leading member of the faculty, the one who probably knew the most about the college. Gordon Levin, who teaches history at Amherst, said Dr. Greene "tried to strengthen the college by incorporating the best of the new with the best of the past. He was the classic figure between change and continuity."

Hugh Hawkins, a retired Amherst colleague, said that Dr. Greene was such a good teacher that he tried to imitate him. "Ted was a very strong person who wasn't out to develop his own ego," Hawkins said. "He was nothing of a showman and was devoted to Amherst, the town and college. In the 1960s, he helped set up a human relations council for the whole town of Amherst to make certain there was enough low-income housing. He was pastoral with his students."

Though Dr. Greene had written one of the essays in "Essays on Amherst's History" in 1978 and edited others, "he did not want to be listed on the title page," Hawkins said.

"Ted had a prickly New England character, honest and unwilling to suffer trivia," Hawkins said. "A conversation with him was likely to challenge sloppy thinking or moral insensitivity."

Dr. Greene's family "was New England tracing back to the Mayflower," said his daughter Jennifer of Phoenix. His parents were the Rev. Theodore Ainsworth Greene and Dorothy (Thayer) Greene. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., graduating first in his class. He graduated from Amherst in 1943.

He served as a weather forecaster in the Army Air Force during World War II in Colorado, where he met his wife, Mary Jane (England), a librarian. They had been married for 59 years.

Besides his wife, his daughter, and his brother, Dr. Greene leaves another daughter, Dorothy LeBlevec of Normandy, France; a son, Stephen of Stamford, Conn.; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in the First Congregational Church, Amherst.